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10 Determinants of Interest Rates in Microfinance

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10 Determinants of Interest Rates in Microfinance

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April 17, 2010 by Fehmeen
Source: lormet.com
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While the necessity of charging interest on microcredit has been widely accepted, there seems to be plenty of disagreement over the level of interest rate charged by microfinance providers because the factors that go into these calculations are not well known. We often hear about high transaction costs and cost of funds in microfinance as justifications of high interest rates, but there is more to it than that. This post shares some of these causes.
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Determinant 1: Cost of Funds

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A large portion of an MFI’s funds are sourced from commercial banks (a 2006 MIX Publication) and the cost of these funds is the market interest rate. In fact, this financial expense, combined with the fees paid on such loans and deposits taken from the public, account for 23% of the interest rate charged by profitable microfinance providers (2010 MIX Publication).
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Determinant 2: Operating Expense

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Personnel and administrative expenses form the largest component (62%) of interest rates charged by sustainable microfinance providers, as per the report mentioned earlier. According to an ADB publication, high transaction costs are associated with disseminating and recovering a large number of small-sized loans, often to clients in geographically dispersed areas with poor infrastructure and security conditions. However, this cost can be reduced by introducing certain technology-related solutions, such as mobile banking, ASP infrastructure model and an MIS customized for microfinance.
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Determinant 3: Contingency Reserves (Provision for Bad Debt)

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‘Provisions for bad debt’ is often a regulatory requirement for bank-led MFIs but other types of MFIs realize the importance of creating an emergency fund to provide a cushion against the risk of loan defaults. As a result, ‘portfolio losses’ account for 6% of interest rates charged by successful microfinance providers, according to data provided by Microfinance Information Exchange.
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Determinant 4: Tax expenses

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Since MFIs often operate in the form of banks, they are subject to business taxes that are often higher than those levied for other businesses. Even though an MFI’s business tax expense is factored into the interest rate calculations by 2%, clients have to pay sales tax on their borrowings as additional fees.
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Determinant 5: Profits

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The profit motivation of microfinance providers is vital for many reasons and it’s only logical that profits form a part of interest rate charged on microloans. The tricky part is ensuring that the returns generated are reasonable and not indicative of greed, as in the case of Bank Compartamos.
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Determinant 6: Credit Rating of Client

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The credit ratings associated with individual and group clients will determine whether a risk-premium is charged on interest rates to off-set the risk of default and maintain the risk-adjusted return to investors.
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Determinant 7: Inflation Levels

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Under the Fisher Effect, inflation erodes the equity levels of an MFI’s lender. As a result, microfinance providers need to raise nominal interest rates to ensure the real value of funds remains the same over time.
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Determinant 8: Higher Competition

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While greater competition among MFIs in many countries has lowered interest rates, a recent study by Financial Access Initiative shows the opposite to be true in Uganda. Greater competition has encouraged MFIs to serve ‘niches characterized by smaller scale loans’ and higher interest rate spreads. In other words, poorer clients in remote areas are targeted with comparatively higher interest rates on smaller loan sizes. Ironically, this partially serves the purpose of microfinance.

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Determinants 9 & 10: Other Factors Impacting the Interest Rate

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Two less definitive factors that impact interest rates, in the opinion of Ruth Goodwin-Groen, are:
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* Management Competence: by tweaking the business process to improve efficiencies, or altering the product design of microloans, managers can lower their operating costs and hence, interest rates.
* Financial Literacy of Clients: if clients understand the actual costs they incur, they perform better comparison shopping and negotiate lower interest rates.
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If you can think of any other factors, please be sure to share them. Alternatively, if you liked this article, you may like to read up on other areas in microfinance theory.
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